Halsey Explains Why 'Without Me' Is More Than Just A Breakup Record
By James Dinh
December 10, 2018
Halsey doesn't typically go out, but on the morning after her performance at the 2018 Victoria Secret Fashion Show, things were a little hazy. Still, she looked like a rock star, walking into iHeartRadio HQ in a mixed-matched patterned ensemble to discuss her breakup hit, "Without Me."
It's her most successful solo single to-date and still climbing the charts, sitting pretty at the No. 4 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, but it didn't come without some impromptu creativity. "I didn't know if it was gonna be right for the next album," she told us. "All I knew is that's how I felt right then, and right there, and I wanted the world to know how those feelings." Ditching her usual album concept formula, the 24-year-old pop star decided to switch things up when she released the one-off Louis Bell-produced track. Marking the first time that she opted to release a song under her real name Ashley Frangipane instead of her stage name, it's brought her even closer with her fans.
Elsewhere during her visit, Halsey spoke about why the record has become more than just an outpour of emotions after severing her romance with G-Eazy, an update on her next album and why she's so proud of Ariana Grande for "thank u, next." Scroll on below to read our Q&A with Halsey.
"Without Me" is really that heartbreak anthem and connecting a lot with listeners. Did you expect this type of reaction?
"Without Me" was a really interesting experience for me because I never really put out one-off records. Everything's really conceptual, and it's all compact into a full storyline or a concept in an album, but this was just something I was feeling at the time. With a record like "Without Me," I didn't know how I was gonna feel in six months. I didn't know if it was gonna be right for the next album. All I knew is that's how I felt right then, and right there, and I wanted the world to know how I was feeling. I just put it out and waited to see what happened, and much to my surprise and excitement, every single fan was like, "This is exactly the record I needed right now."
I think it speaks a lot to the way that myself and my fanbase are kind of tuned into the same frequency. A lot of them are going through the same stuff I'm going through, so it makes sense that when I put out a really personal song they connect with it in the same way. It's also so special because a lot of my fans started listening to me when they were teenagers and, so was I, and they're growing with me. As we're all going through these life changes and we're evolving, I'm writing my story as they're growing along with it. It always feels really personal and hits the right way every time. It makes me want to keep writing music like that.
It's obviously easy to think this song is just about romance, but the other angle is that you were dealing with one-sided friendships and relationships. Can you talk about that part of the record?
"Without Me" started as a breakup record. As I started diving deeper into my feelings and started playing the record for people, it even changed after I'd already made it. I was looking at my life and looking at my relationships and friendships and stuff, and I realized that I was putting in a little bit more effort than everybody else, which is a really nice thing sometimes to be effortlessly compassionate. Just wanting to help everyone around you and give them all of you all the time, but it can be really exhausting.
Like a caregiver?
Yeah, being a caregiver [and] being the mom friend all the time. Sometimes people aren't used to having to take care of you, so then when you need them they're like, "I don't know what to do here." That's kind of what I was going through. The craziest thing about it was that when I played it for people, some people in my life listened closely and were like, "I think I might be a part of the problem you're singing about." They started putting more effort and being more communicative, and asking me about my feelings. I've watched my friendships change around the record. As an artist, you wanna say what you feel, and you wanna make art that's a reflection of your feelings, but you also wanna make art that changes you and changes the world around you, so to watch my environment change because of the record I made was really rewarding because it meant [that] it still works. Art still speaks.
I guess that's part of your own personal growth since the record's more dynamic. Is it difficult to be the caregiver?
I think that sometimes the caregiver thing is just a personality trait that you can't really fix. I like taking care of my friends. I like taking care of my family. I just like taking care of people. I'm really good at it, really good at it, and it's one thing I'm really proud of about myself. I just have to be better at recognizing the signs of someone who's gonna take advantage of that, but all of that is just part of maturing, and growing up, and I'm doing it through my 20s, the same way that everybody else is. I'm just doing it on an album.
It's also the first time you wrote under Ashley. Talk to me about that decision.
Because it wasn't part of an album, there was no concept. There was no cinematic thing. There was no name and character. hopeless fountain kingdom was this gunfight, car explosion, blood, Romeo and Juliette cinematic metaphor, which was awesome 'cause I got my point across, but I did it under the veil of being a little dramatic, but it's Shakespeare. This was me speaking from my heart. I couldn't hide it with a metaphor or an allegory, or a reference. It was "This is how I feel." The music video was really cool for me because I think it's the first video where I've really portrayed myself and not a character. It was really liberating to do that.
You've always collected pieces of inspiration for these concept albums. Have you started collecting poetry or anything for the next project?
I'm always collecting stuff, all the time. It's part of what I do. If there's a hunter and gatherer, I'm a gatherer writer, wherein I spend a couple months finding poetry, finding movie references, photos I like, colors because I'm a really visual writer. I'm in that process right now. I'm gonna start writing really soon, but the cool thing about making an album for me is that, once the floodgates are open, it just all comes out. So once I write the first song, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, whatever follows really shortly after 'cause it's all just one story. It's one moment in time.
Fletcher was here yesterday and we talked about what it means to be a woman in pop or just a woman now in the industry. How are you reflective on this transition that the industry is making?
I think right now is a really good time to be a woman in pop music because I think that pop music fans are demanding more intelligent [and] more intentional music. It used to be cool to put out love songs and it also used to be cool to be singing about toxic relationships and singing about, "I would do anything for you, no matter what." People wanted records like that. But now that woman have advanced in culture to the point where they're standing up for themselves and being really vocal, I think that's projecting itself into pop music in a sense that female listeners and male listeners, people in general, are saying, "You know what, no."
If you look at Ariana [Grande], for example, who I'm really proud of, and I just admire her so much. She took this moment where people were saying so much about her personal life and she turned it into this incredibly positive message that was like, "You know what, don't let anyone make you feel bad for making decisions and for having life experiences. This is part of what it means to be a human." I think that was a really, really important message, and I tried to do the same thing with "Without Me," which was, "Hey. Stand up for yourself." I think because the culture has shifted to not silencing women, and letting them speak their minds even when they're aggravated or when it's inconvenient, music has transcended into being a little more intentional in that way, too.
Photo: Katherine Tyler for iHeartRadio